Poulo Condor is an archipelago consisting of 16 big and small islets lying in the South-eastern of Vietnam. In 1858, after the first sound of gun by the French colonialists at Da Nang port to launch the invasion to our country to the date of 28 Jan 1861, France declared to seize Poulo Condor. On 01 Feb 1862, France began to build here the biggest prison of Indochina with the target to destroy revolutionists by using hard labour, torture, hunger, disease; They looked for all ways to ruin the personality, to suppress human dignity. They confine men in such a circumstance of hopelessness, meaning dead living. The French Colonialists chose Poulo Condor to build the prisons because:
- On geography: Poulo Condor has 04 directions bordering sea. The nearest point of Poulo Condor as over 30 nautical miles from the mainland. Being imprisoned here, prisoners are hard to escape.
- They intended to separate the dangerous elements who opposed the ruling policies of the Colonialist State, causing danger to the security in the colony.
- They used the harsh regulations of prison to torture, to gradually kill prisoners, crushing their resistance will.
- They exploited prisoners’ labour to build and development the colony.
In the struggle for independence, it is hard to find somewhere with a lot of pain, loss but being glorious as Poulo Condor Relic. Generations of patriots who fought for the country independence have been condemned here. They were insurgent soldiers from the Can Vuong (Protecting the King) Movement, Van Than struggling against the French Colonialists to students and pupils fighting against invasive American Imperialists. Each wall confinement, each camp, each inch of land, each tree, each stone on this island are all relics to witness the cruel of colonialism, imperialism and their gangs. However, it was right at this very islet that the mettle of the patriots, the solid and unyielding fighting spirit of communist soldiers before enemies have been displayed at a height of mind and at an abundance of fighting ways. Among which, the image of Uncle Ton at Poulo Condor as well as in the rice-husking cell are the lively evidences of patriotism, loyalty and absolute belief to the Party’s leadership and the noble humanity of man.
The rice-husking cell in the Prison I was built by the French Colonialists in the late years of the 19th Century. The rice-husking cell was a form of hard labour to take advantage the labor force of prisoners. This cell often contained common prisoners. They were wicked and aggressive ringleaders and some political prisoners. The direct leader of the rice-husking cell was a principal gang and four subordinates. They were hard-labor prisoners appointed to assist the French jailers and chiefs. They forced the prisoners to work hard, becoming efficient tools of the jailers. Those gangs often gathered over dozens of scoundrels to serve them. All of them colluded to shift all hard work over other prisoners.
The rice-husking cell had a narrow area, three directions of tight walls, one direction of strong iron-bar hedge about 02 meters from the cell. Over 100 prisoners in fetters, 200 racks of paddy, 05 big mills and two big-sized fans hustled in a 150-square-meter cellar. The paddy mills were made of a sawed barrel crammed with clay and big dents. There must be 06 prisoners to be capable to run a paddy-mill. While running, the legs of two prisoners were tied jointly with a 05-kg dumbbell. The muffled sound of the fans, the roaring sound of the paddy-mill, the clanking sound of chains under the prisoners, the grinding sound of the millstone mixing with the sound of rods whipping on bare backs and the creaming, scolding voices of the scoundrel gangs form a mess of awful sounds in the rice-husking cell. Such a situation, from day to day, from 06:00 a.m. to 05:00 p.m., the rice-husking cell was always in a condition of being cramped, noisy, hot and muggy, and stuffy. Within the distance of 01 meter, prisoners could not see each other because of the dense curtain of rice-husk. Rice-husk flew into eyes, causing sore, and then swollen and red eyes. Under such a harsh working condition, prisoners in rice-husking cell had their meals being austere. Rice was stale, fish were rotten, soup contained tough amaranth full of worm-eggs boiled in salt water. Edibles were full of sand. Unlike in hard-labor prison, the gang in the rice-husking cell had the authority to brutalize prisoners. They were so cruel as a flock of demons. The jailers only stood outside the iron-bar hedge to monitor the faith of those scoundrels whose ruffian manner had been activated by themselves. If the Poulo Condor’s Prison is called the Hell on Earth, the rice-husking cells must be “the Hades of Hell on Earth”.
Being extremely oppressed, rice-husking cell’s prisoners became brutal. Sometimes, they revolted, killing the ferocious gang.
In 1930, Uncle Ton was sentenced 20 years of hard-labour and exiled to Poulo Condor by the French Colonialists. At this place, the French Jailers imprisoned him in many places. A lot of cruel tortures were used to destroy Uncle’s communist ideal. He used to be jailed in Cell No. 9, Cell No. 15, Transport Unit, Fishing Unit… including the rice-husking cell.
In the late of 1932 and early 1933, Uncle Ton was punished by the French Jailer. He was moved to the rice-husking cell, being chained, standing to run the mill, and carrying paddy-sacks. After the cruel gang Bay Tot was killed by other ringleaders, it was the Prison I Chief who appointed Uncle Ton to act as the position of a gang. His wicked plot was to have the gangster prisoners killing Uncle Ton.
Knowing thoroughly the plot, Uncle Ton discussed to the communist prisoners in the rice-husking cell to grasp this chance renovate the colonialist prison regime in the rice-husking cell. For the first time, the work in the rice-husking cell was re-organized. All had to work. Those of weak health were assigned to screening and packing, those of strong health were assigned to milling and carrying paddy. Uncle Ton did too. The shift of mill running, the harshest task was appointed more labor. One might rest during the other worked for health economization. Seeing some prisoners resting, the rice-husk cell jailer intended to whip them. Uncle Ton calmly told him:
“Rice has been enough, what use of whipping?”
Hearing the gang Hai Thang did not force prisoners to mill a lot, at time the Prison Chief scolded him. Uncle Ton replied:
“I can control an army of legionnaires, but I can not force prisoners to mill paddy in your sole intention”.
Uncle Ton and the communist prisoners in the rice-husking cell have actively educated and converted common criminals. Prisoners Aid Society was established in the rice-husking cell. Those who were sick were taken care of, shared hard work in the day. In the afternoon, when the jailers went away, Uncle Ton organized the Prisoners Society to cook more rice to eat for health guarantee. In the evenings and Sundays, the Prisoners organized the learning, talking about traditions, educating patriotism to common prisoners. Under the leadership of the gang Hai Thang, for the first time, the working and living condition were clearly bettered. The volume fixed every day was reduced despite the jailers’ or chiefs’ scolding or threatening. Every afternoon, the prisoners could rest nearly 02 hours. The attitude of solidarity, learning and assistance with one another gradually replaced the hostility and disunion. Many common criminals were passionate to learn. Mr. Du (a deportee) used to be illiterate, thanks to some months staying in the rice-husking cell with Gang Hai Thang, could write a letter to his wife. Du felt moved to fall tears. The gang prisoners were no longer aggressive. On the contrary, they became good-natured, loving Uncle. Many were awaken to the revolutionary ideas, then later joining in the resistance war against the French Colonialists. The situation in the rice-husking cell when Uncle Ton acted as a gang did not please the jailers. The Prison I decided to replace Uncle by another gang. After the punishment time, Uncle Ton returned to the Transport Unit and the wicked plot to push Uncle Ton to death failed.
With the nature of benevolence and good, the profound patriotism, with the wisdom and way of a Communist, Uncle Ton converted those prisoners whom to be deemed refractory by the French Jailers. Uncle had converting, winning their hearts, enlightening, activating in the essence of prisoners the spirit of struggle, the love to human.
From such above, we can see that a communist not only adapt with the context, moreover, they also improve it to the best possible ways of their own. And Uncle Ton has been the liveliest evidences for the unyielding spirit. “The pearl essence” of the Communist Ton Duc Thang has glorified over the harsh condition of the rice-husking cell as well as among Poulo Condor Prison. Uncle will be the everlasting example for the next generations.
Extracted from “Uncle Ton (1888-1980) ‘s life and career”
Su That Publishing House